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Picking the Pac Week 3: Raining on Dawgs and Cats

Plus, how long can USC play with fire before getting burned?

Washington v Arizona Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

2020 Pac-12 Picks

1 3 1 0 2 2 19 13 0 21 11
2 2 3 0 3 2
3 1 3 0 3 1
4 3 2 0 4 1
5 4 2 0 3 3
6 4 0 0 4 0
7 2 2 0 2 2

UCLA @ Oregon (-14)

Ascribing the proper value to UCLA’s dominant win over Cal feels like Vizzini trying to decide which cup to drink in The Princess Bride. UCLA gave up 48 points to Colorado, so they can’t be very good. But they held Cal to 10, so maybe they are good. But Cal was inconsistent offensively last year, so maybe they’re not good. But Cal brought back most of their offense and they’re healthier, so maybe they are good. But it was Cal’s first game and they only got a shortened, rescheduled week to prepare, so maybe they’re not good. I think UCLA’s bigger problem will be with Oregon’s defense. Even though UCLA is improving, I don’t think they’re yet on the level of the Ducks, who held serve with another solid performance over WSU. At least I don’t have to go in against a Sicilian, and death isn’t on the line.

Oregon 35 – UCLA 20

Cal (-3.5) @ Oregon State

UW and Cal both opened their schedules last week against teams with a game already under their belt and both looked worse than expected. I don’t expect that lag to persist into a second week. On the other hand, this matchup looks pretty even. Cal gave up 244 rushing yards to UCLA. Jermar Jefferson could have his third consecutive 100-yard game to open the season. Oregon State showed against UW that they’ll sell out against the run if the opponent can’t or won’t air it out. Will Cal find any more success passing than the 122 yards on 33 attempts from last week? I expect this game to come down to the wire either way.

Oregon State 27 – Cal 24

USC (-3) @ Utah

USC v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In a pandemic oddity, USC will play its third consecutive game against an opponent making its season debut. If you thought UW’s QB battle was protracted, consider that Utes fans still don’t know who will line up under center. USC has played with fire in each of its first two games. Kedon Slovis did enough to sneak by Arizona in spite of some foul-looking ducks coming out of his hands (get it? Foul-fowl-ducks? I’ll show myself out). The Trojans really struggled with Arizona State’s defense in week one and even a young Utes squad should offer that type of resistance. In my estimation, the game will come down to how well Utah’s offense gels in a real game. USC has not done enough to convince me of its quality through two games, so I’m picking them to finally suffer the consequences this week.

Utah 30 – USC 28

Washington State @ Stanford (-2)

Stanford has done just enough for fans to still have an iota of faith in the team. The week one drubbing at the hands of Oregon can be excused by the absences of Davis Mills and Connor Wedington. The Cardinal very nearly came back from a 19-point deficit against Colorado last week, but time ran out. I think the more realistic read is that Stanford’s defense has not played well and the run offense has had exactly one great play (Nathanlel Peat’s 73-yrader against Oregon). Washington State hasn’t blown the doors off Oregon State or Oregon, but both performances were a bit better than expected. Jayden de Laura has looked better than a true freshman and the offense has quickly adopted Nick Rolovich’s playbook. The Cougars will be able to move the ball on Stanford and I’m not sure the Cardinal have the firepower to keep up in a shoot-out.

Washington State 38 – Stanford 34

Friday Update: Due to late breaking news that Jayden de Laura will miss this game and possibly the Apple Cup with a positive Covid test, I’m taking a TD from the Cougs. Stanford 34 - Washington State 31

Arizona State @ Colorado – Canceled

Arizona @ Washington (-11)

Based on last week alone, it’s hard to figure why UW is favored by double digits against any Pac-12 team or why Arizona would get double digits against any Pac-12 team. Nonetheless, there are reasons to think that myopic view doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about the teams.

This week’s All We Hear Is Purple podcast recording was eaten by an internet monster, so the world missed out on Gabey and my dive into the myriad factors that resulted in the Dawgs’ lackluster offensive approach. Among the contributing variables: bad weather, an OSU defense that looked vulnerable against power runs, a conservative gameplan to protect a QB making his first start, horrible weather at game time, and a desire to kill the clock and protect a late lead in the coaching staff’s first game. Make no mistake- it was too conservative. For UW to come anywhere close to its potential, Dylan Morris has to be more active and UW’s playmakers at WR have to be better and more involved.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Oregon State at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Is it possible that the context cocktail missed the point and John Donovan really wants to run out of the I-formation 50 times per game? Yes, it’s possible. I believe the more likely explanation involves these factors and they will loosen the reigns against an Arizona team that is less vulnerable against interior runs, in weather that’s projected to be much better, and in game that isn’t the very first one for coaches and the QB.

In terms of the actual matchup, the USC game tells us little about what to expect from Arizona. They played lots of zone against USC’s air raid and the Trojans threw lots of quick passes. I suspect Washington will use more quick-hitting passes, but it won’t be the bread and butter of the offense. Still, if Morris finishes with under 200 passing yards again, it won’t be a good sign for this week or the season at large.

Defensively, the challenge will be stopping Gary Brightwell. Arizona’s lead back shared time with J.J. Taylor last season, but showed last week that he has the power, durability, and elusiveness to handle the bell-cow responsibilities. UW needs to be better up front with its tackles holding blocks, and at the second level with linebackers filling the right holes. The coaches can help by bringing a safety into the box, and given the immense talent in the secondary, the corners can probably do with a little less help. Grant Gunnell is a balanced, talented quarterback and Arizona has good weapons at wide receiver, but they did not protect him very well last week and UW can cause similar problems if ZTF repeats his breakout performance.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Oregon State at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Altogether, I think the accumulation of strange factors led to UW playing too conservatively in week one. With that test out of the way, the coaches will have to loosen up a bit because the Dawgs are the more talented team in this matchup and need to have the freedom to show it.

UW 30 – Arizona 20